The Indian/British author Ahmed Salman Rushdie (born 1947) was a political parablist whose work often focused on outrages of history and particularly of religions. His book The Satanic Verses earned him a death sentence from the Iranian Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
Although he was called a writer to watch after the appearance of his first novel and was awarded one of the most prestigious literary prizes in Europe for his second, Salman Rushdie became a household word because of the enemies his fiction made rather than the admirers. The Satanic Verses, published in 1988, earned him a death sentence from Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, then religious sovereign of Iran and spiritual leader to millions of fundamentalist Moslems worldwide.
Born Ahmed Salman Rushdie on June 19, 1947, to a middle-class family in Bombay, India, Rushdie was educated in England and eventually received his M.A. from King's College, Cambridge. After a brief career as an actor he made a living as a freelance advertising copywriter in England from 1970 to 1980. The experience of expatriation, which he shared with many writers of his generation who were born in the Third World, is an important theme in his work.
However, Rushdie's opus in particular expanded the meaning of the word "expatriate" to possibly its total linguistic limits. For instance, Midnight's Children (1981) is in part the story of a baby who was not only the result of an extramarital affair, but who was then switched at birth with a second illicit child. The hero of the novel is doubly removed from his true patrimony: His mother's husband is not his father, and the Englishman with whom his Indian mother slept—who his mother thinks is his father—is not his real father either. In addition, the hero is caught between the two great religions of Indian, Islam and Hinduism, neither of which he can claim as his own. Finally, he spends his life being shunted back and forth by circumstance between the Indian republic and its antithesis, Pakistan.
Rushdie unfailingly took the stance of a lifelong member of the diaspora, which may be the most consistently autobiographical aspect of his work. Long before his hurried exile from the public eye, in an interview published after Midnight's Children received the Booker McConnell Prize, Rushdie presciently said: "I have a fear that it may, at some point, become necessary to make choices among [India, England, and America], and that it will be very painful."
Another characteristic of Rushdie's work is its reliance on the fantastic. In fact, Rushdie's first book, Grimus (1979), was classified as science fiction by many critics. It is the story of Flapping Eagle, an American Indian who is given the gift of immortality and goes on an odyssey to find the meaning of life. Shame (1983) has a Pakistani heroine, Sufiya Zinobia, who blushes so hotly with embarrassment at her nation's history her body boils her bath water and burns the lips of men who attempt to kiss her. The title Midnight's Children refers to the 1,001 infants born in the first hour of India's independence, all of whom have para-human powers. And The Satanic Verses opens with the miraculous survival and transfiguration of two Indian men who fall out of the sky after their jumbo jet to England is blown up in midair by Sikh terrorists.
Rushdie always used the element of the fabulous to make painfully incisive political commentary (among other varieties of observation). Shame is so thinly disguised a parody of recent Pakistani history as to be transparent, and the hero of Midnight's Children was described as a man "handcuffed to history" by the political journal Commonweal. Rushdie is often compared with Lawrence Sterne as well as Jonathan Swift as a political parablist, but according to The New York Times Book Review, "It would be a disservice to Salman Rushdie's very original genius to dwell on literary analogues and ancestors."
Rushdie also made a career out of poking fun at religious fanatics of every stripe. One technique of Rushdie's in furtherance of this aim was to infuse common objects with enormous symbolic significance. In Midnight's Children, for instance, pickled chutney is one of the main images for India's cultural and social maelstrom; in The Satanic Verses, bad breath plays a vital role in telling good from evil. Few other writers dare to found entire symbolic structures on items as replaceable as a sheet with a hole in the middle, but to Rushdie it undoubtedly seems a worse exercise in illogic to kill people over the contents of a so-called "holy" book.
Rushdie's habit of using the outrages of history— especially religious outrages and religious history—made The Satanic Verses (1988) a book of frightening precognition. In the novel, Rushdie has a writer sentenced to death by a religious leader. The writer in the book is a scribe meant to chronicle the life of a prophet who—as the writer of the book enjoys riddling—both "is and is not" Mohammed. Creating this character, who exists within a psychotic dream of one of the two men who fell from the airplane, was a natural extension of Rushdie's personal horror at fundamentalist Islamic rule. It is this dream sequence which ignited fatal riots in India and garnered Rushdie the Ayatollah Khomeini's death sentence.
The title of the novel refers to verses from the Koran, which were struck out by later Islamic historians, describing an episode in which Mohammed briefly wavered in his adherence to belief in a single god and allowed mention to be made of three local goddesses. The dream section in the book details, from the point of view of a schizophrenic Indian actor who fancies himself an archangel, how the holy prophet yielded to temptation and then reversed himself. There are other "satanic" verses in the book, notably those a modern-day husband anonymously sings over the phone to drive his wife's lover insane with jealousy. But the contemporary aspect of the novel has been almost completely overlooked by the controversy surrounding it.
Khomeini's death threat extended not only to Rushdie himself, but to the publishers of The Satanic Verses, any bookseller who carried it, and any Moslem who publicly condoned its release. Several major bookstores in England and America had bomb scares, and the novel was temporarily removed from the shelves of America's largest book selling chains. Two Islamic clerics in London were murdered, ostensibly for questioning the correctness of Rushdie's death sentence on a talk show. Numerous book-burnings were held throughout the world.
Rushdie himself, and his possible disguises in hiding, became an established figure of black humor. During the 1990 Academy Awards presentation, which was seen worldwide by an estimated one billion viewers, comedian Billy Crystal joked that "the lovely young woman" who usually hands Oscar statuettes to their recipients "is, of course, Salman Rushdie."
Rushdie's wife of 13 months, author Marianne Wiggins, went into hiding with him when the death threat was announced. She soon emerged and indicated that their marriage was over.
In 1990 Rushdie released the fantasy novel Haroun and the Sea of Stories, written for his son (by a first marriage), Zafar. That same year Rushdie publicly embraced Islam and apologized to those offended by the The Satanic Verses. He made several appearances in London book-stores to autograph his newest work. But even after the Ayatollah's death, his successor, Iran's President Hashemi Rafsanzani, refused to lift the death edict. Rushdie continued to appear in public only occasionally, and then under heavy security.
Although the severity of the Ayatollah's sentence was at least partially a political gambit to aid his regime in its final days, it carried the force of gospel for many terrorists who regard America—and the freedom of speech espoused in the American Constitution—as the "Great Satan." Rushdie will live in danger until the last Khomeini loyalist has passed away. As if in a scene from one of his novels, the innocent speaker of a personal truth is surrealistically threatened with slaughter by his opposite, who claims a patent on universal truth. Rushdie has already been acclaimed as a supreme artist; one can only hope, for his sake as well as ours, that his life will no longer imitate his art.
Rushdie continues to live an isolated life. He has re-married, however, and become a father for the second time. Occasionally he makes radio appearances, but, they are usually unannounced. Rushdie's novel entitled The Moor's Last Sigh was published in 1995. This book drew hostile and negative reactions from Hindu militants in India.
Contemporary Authors, volume 111 (1984), edited by Hal May, contains selected reviews of Grimus, Midnight's Children, and Shame, as well as a comprehensive selection of reviews and news stories surrounding The Satanic Verses. A lengthy interview by Gerald Marzorati appeared in The New York Times Magazine (November 4, 1990). In 1991 Rushdie published Imaginary Homelands: Essays and Criticism, 1981-1991, a kind of intellectual autobiography. Rushdie was mentioned in "People" Time (Septmeber 18, 1995) □
"Salman Rushdie." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 21, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/salman-rushdie
"Salman Rushdie." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved August 21, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/salman-rushdie
The works of the Indian author Salman Rushdie often focused on outrages of history and particularly of religions. His book The Satanic Verses earned him a death sentence from the Iranian leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini (1900–1989).
Early life and education
Ahmed Salman Rushdie was born on June 19, 1947, in Bombay, India, the only son among Anis Ahmed Rushdie and Negin Butt's four children. His father was a businessman who had been educated at Cambridge University in England. Rushdie's childhood was happy and he was always surrounded by books. Rushdie remembers wanting to be a writer at age five. He was sent to England at age fourteen to attend Rugby, a private school. His fellow students tormented him both because he was Indian and because he had no athletic ability.
Rushdie later attended Cambridge, as his father had done, and his experience there was much more positive. He received his master's degree in history in 1968. After a brief career as an actor he worked as a free-lance advertising copywriter in England from 1970 to 1980. The experience of expatriation (living outside one's country of birth), which he shared with many writers of his generation who were born in the Third World, is an important theme in his work.
Rushdie's first published book, Grimus (1975), was classified as science fiction by many critics. It is the story of Flapping Eagle, a Native American who is given the gift of immortality (eternal life) and goes on a journey to find the meaning of life. Although the book received positive reviews, it did not sell very well. Rushdie continued working as a part-time ad writer over the five years it took him to write Midnight's Children. He quit his job after finishing the novel without even knowing if it would be published.
Released first in the United States in 1981, Midnight's Children is in part the story of a baby who was not only the result of an extramarital affair (an affair between a married person and someone other than his or her spouse) but who was then switched at birth with a second child from a similar situation. The hero is also caught between the two great Indian religions, Islam and Hinduism. Finally, he spends his life moving back and forth between the Indian republic and Pakistan. The book received rave reviews in the United States and was a popular and critical success in England. Rushdie followed this up with Shame (1983), the story of a Pakistani woman, Sufiya Zinobia, who blushes so hotly with embarrassment at her nation's history that her body boils her bath water and burns the lips of men who attempt to kiss her.
Angers Muslim leaders
Rushdie's The Satanic Verses (1988) opens with the survival of two Indian men who fall out of the sky after their jumbo jet to England is blown up in midair by terrorists. These two characters then gain divine and demonic powers. Rushdie's habit of using the atrocities of history—especially involving religion—made The Satanic Verses a book of frightening precognition (describing events that have not yet occurred): another character in the novel is a writer sentenced to death by a religious leader.
The title of the novel refers to verses from the Koran (the holy book of the Islamic faith), which were removed by later Islamic historians, describing a time when the Arab prophet (one with religious insight) Mohammed (the founder of Islam) briefly changed his belief in a single god and allowed mention to be made of three local goddesses. This was considered offensive and an insult to Islam by the Iranian leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who issued a fatwa, or religious order, calling for Rushdie's death. Rushdie went into hiding and received round-the-clock protection from British security guards. Rushdie's wife of thirteen months, author Marianne Wiggins, went into hiding with him when the death threat was announced. She soon emerged and announced that their marriage was over.
Khomeini's death threat extended not only to Rushdie himself, but to the publishers of The Satanic Verses, any bookseller who carried it, and any Muslim who publicly approved of its release. Several bookstores in England and America received bomb threats, and the novel was briefly removed from the shelves of America's largest book-selling chains. Two Islamic officials in London, England, were murdered for questioning the correctness of Rushdie's death sentence on a talk show. Many book-burnings were held throughout the world.
Rushdie himself, and his possible disguises in hiding, became the subject of many jokes. For example, during the 1990 Academy Awards presentation, which was seen worldwide by an estimated one billion viewers, comedian Billy Crystal (1947–) joked that "the lovely young woman" who usually hands Oscar statuettes to their recipients "is, of course, Salman Rushdie."
Working under a death sentence
In 1990 Rushdie released the fantasy (a made-up story) novel Haroun and the Sea of Stories, written for his son by his first marriage. That same year Rushdie publicly embraced Islam and apologized to those offended by the The Satanic Verses. He made several appearances in London bookstores to autograph his newest work. But even after the Ayatollah's death, his successor, Iran's President Hashemi Rafsanzani, refused to lift the death sentence. Rushdie continued to appear in public only occasionally, and then under heavy security.
Rushdie continued to live an isolated life. He remarried, however, and became a father for the second time. Occasionally he made radio appearances, but they were usually unannounced. Rushdie's novel entitled The Moor's Last Sigh was published in 1995. This book drew angry reactions from Hindu militants (those engaged in war) in India. In 1998, as part of an attempt to restore relations between Iran and England, the Iranian foreign minister, while repeating criticism of The Satanic Verses, announced that Iran had no intention of harming Rushdie or encouraging anyone to do so. A relieved Rushdie said he would end his nine years of seclusion.
In 1999 Rushdie published The Ground Beneath Her Feet, the story of a famous singer lost during an earthquake. Rushdie described it as "a novel of our age" in an interview with CNN's Jonathan Mann. In April 2000 Rushdie created a sensation by visiting India, his first visit to his birthplace since he was four years old. In November 2001 Rushdie told the Manchester Guardian that most Muslims' view of Islam is "jumbled" and "half-examined." He criticized Muslims for blaming "outsiders" for the world's problems and said that they needed to accept the changes in the modern world to truly achieve freedom.
For More Information
Cundy, Catherine. Salman Rushdie. Manchester, England: Manchester University Press, 1996.
Rushdie, Salman. Conversations with Salman Rushdie. Edited by Michael Reder. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2000.
Rushdie, Salman. Imaginary Homelands: Essays and Criticism, 1981–1991. London: Granta Books, 1991.
Ruthven, Malise. A Satanic Affair: Salman Rushdie and the Rage of Islam. London: Chatto & Windus, 1990.
"Rushdie, Salman." UXL Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 21, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/rushdie-salman
"Rushdie, Salman." UXL Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved August 21, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/rushdie-salman
Rushdie, Sir Salman
Sir Salman Rushdie (sälmän´ rōōsh´dē), 1947–, British novelist, b. Bombay (now Mumbai, India). He is known for the allusive richness of his language and the wide variety of Eastern and Western characters and cultures he explores. His first novels, including Midnight's Children (1981; Booker Prize; adapted for the stage by Rushdie, 2003) and Shame (1983), incorporate the technique of magic realism; elements of this approach can also be found in his later fiction. Parts of his allegorical novel The Satanic Verses (1988) were deemed sacrilegious and enraged many Muslims, including Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini, who in 1989 issued a fatwa sentencing Rushdie to death. Violence occurred in some cities where the book was sold, and Rushdie went into hiding. From his seclusion he wrote Haroun and the Sea of Stories (1990), a novelistic allegory against censorship; East, West (1995), a book of short stories; and The Moor's Last Sigh (1995), a novel that examines India's recent history through the life of a Jewish-Christian family. The Iranian government ended its support for the fatwa in 1998, but since 2004 a state-linked Iranian religious foundation has offered a bounty for Rushdie's murder. Rushdie's first post-fatwa novel, The Ground beneath Her Feet (1999), mingles myth and reality in a surreal world of rock music celebrity. Since then he has also written the novels Fury (2001), Shalimar the Clown (2005), and The Enchantress of Florence (2008), a romantic fantasy of 16th-century East and West, chiefly tales of Mughal India and Renaissance Italy. Luka and the Fire of Life (2010), a magical 21st-century myth, is a sequel to Haroun. Rushdie's work also includes numerous essays, many of which are in Step across This Line: Collected Nonfiction 1992–2002 (2002). He was knighted in 2008, provoking condemnation from some Muslims.
See Joseph Anton (2012), a memoir that chronicles his years in hiding; M. Reder, ed., Conversations with Salman Rushdie (2000) and P. S. Chauhan, ed., Salman Rushdie Interviews (2001); studies by T. Brennan (1989), J. Harrison (1992), C. Cundy (1996), M. K. Booker, ed. (1999), R. Y. Clark (2001), H. Bloom, ed. (2003), P. Chowdhury (2007), and S. Morton (2008).
"Rushdie, Sir Salman." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 21, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/rushdie-sir-salman
"Rushdie, Sir Salman." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved August 21, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/rushdie-sir-salman
Rushdie, (Ahmed) Salman
RUSHDIE, (Ahmed) Salman
Nationality: British. Born: Bombay, India, 19 June 1947. Education: Cathedral School, Bombay; Rugby School, Warwickshire, 1961-65; King's College, Cambridge, 1965-68, M.A. (honours) in history 1968. Family: Married 1) Clarissa Luard in 1976 (divorced 1987), one son; 2) the writer Marianne Wiggins in 1988 (divorced 1993). Career: Worked in television in Pakistan and as actor in London, 1968-69; freelance advertising copywriter, London, 1970-81; council member, Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, from 1985. Sentenced to death for The Satanic Verses in a religious decree (fatwa ) by Ayatollah Khomeini, and forced to go into hiding, February 1989. Awards: Arts Council bursary; Booker prize, 1981; English-Speaking Union award, 1981; James Tait Black Memorial prize, 1982; Foreign Book prize (France), 1985; Whitbread award, 1988, 1995; Writer's Guild prize for children's fiction, 1991; Kurt Tucholsky prize, 1992; Prix Colette, 1993; Booker of Bookers, 1993; State Prize for European Literature, 1994. Fellow, Royal Society of Literature, 1983. Honorary professor, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Agent: Aitken Stone & Wylie Ltd., 29 Fernshaw Road, London SW10 OTG, England.
Grimus. London, Gollancz, 1975; New York, Overlook Press, 1979.
Midnight's Children. London, Cape, and New York, Knopf, 1981.
Shame. London, Cape, and New York, Knopf, 1983.
The Satanic Verses. London, Viking, 1988; New York, Viking, 1989.
The Moor's Last Sigh. New York, Pantheon Books, 1995.
The Ground Beneath Her Feet. New York, Henry Holt, 1999.
East, West: Stories. New York, Pantheon, 1994.
Uncollected Short Stories
"The Free Radio," in Firebird 1, edited by T.J. Binding. London, Penguin, 1982.
"The Prophet's Hair," in The Penguin Book of Modern British Short Stories, edited by Malcolm Bradbury. London, Viking, 1987; New York, Viking, 1988.
"Good Advice Is Rarer than Rubies," in New Yorker, 22 June 1987.
"Untime of the Imam," in Harper's (New York), December 1988.
Fiction (for children)
Haroun and the Sea of Stories. London, Granta, 1990; New York, Viking, 1991.
Television Writing: The Painter and the Pest, 1985; The Riddle of Midnight, 1988.
The Jaguar Smile: A Nicaraguan Journey. London, Pan, and NewYork, Viking, 1987.
Is Nothing Sacred? (lecture). London, Granta, 1990.
Imaginary Homelands: Essays and Criticism 1981-1991. London, Granta, and New York, Viking, 1991.
The Wizard of Oz. London, BFI, 1992.
Conversations with Salman Rushdie, edited by Michael Reder. Jackson, University Press of Mississippi, 2000.*
The Salman Rushdie Bibliography: A Bibliography of Salman Rushdie's Work and Rushdie Criticism by Joel Kuortti, Frankfurt am Main and New York, P. Lang, 1997.
Three Contemporary Novelists: Khushwant Singh, Chaman Nahal, and Salman Rushdie edited by R.K. Dhawan, New Delhi, Classical, 1985; The Perforated Sheet: Essays on Salman Rushdie's Art by Uma Parameswaran, New Delhi, Affiliated East West Press, 1988; The Rushdie File edited by Lisa Appignanesi and Sara Maitland, London, Fourth Estate, 1989, Syracuse, New York, Syracuse University Press, 1990; Salman Rushdie and the Third World: Myths of the Nation by Timothy Brennan, London, Macmillan, 1989; A Satanic Affair: Salman Rushdie and the Rage of Islam by Malise Ruthven, London, Chatto and Windus, 1990; The Rushdie Affair: The Novel, The Ayatollah, and the West by Daniel Pipes, New York, Birch Lane Press, 1990; Salman Rushdie: Sentenced to Death by W.J. Weatherby, New York, Carroll and Graf, 1990; Distorted Imagination: Lessons from the Rushdie Affair by Ziauddin Sardar and Merryl Wyn Davies, London, Grey Seal, 1990; The Novels of Salman Rushdie edited by G.R. Tanefa and R.K. Dhawan, New Delhi, Indian Society for Commonwealth Studies, 1992; Salman Rushdie by James Harrison, New York, Twayne, 1992; Salman Rushdie's Fiction: A Study by Madhusudhana Rao, New Delhi, Sterling, 1992; For Rushdie: A Collection of Essays by 100 Arabic and Muslim Writers, New York, Braziller, 1994; Reading Rushdie: Perspectives on the Fiction of Salman Rushdie, edited by M.D. Fletcher, Atlanta, Rodopi, 1994; Blasphemy: Verbal Offense Against the Sacred, from Moses to Salman Rushdie by Leonard W. Levy, Chapel Hill, University of North Carolina Press, 1995; Colonial and Post-colonial Discourse in the Novels of Yom Sang-Sop, Chinua Achebe, and Salman Rushdie by Soonsik Kim, New York, P. Lang, 1996; Salman Rushdie by Catherine Cundy, Manchester, England, Manchester University Press, and New York, St. Martin's Press, 1996; Salman Rushdie by D.C.R.A. Goonetilleke, New York, St. Martin's Press, 1998; Critical Essays on Salman Rushdie, edited by M. Keith Booker, New York, G.K. Hall, 1999.* * *
Rushdie's Midnight's Children is often credited with having made Magic Realism a popular style for postcolonial English-language fiction. His models were the German Gunther Grass and Colombian Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Written in a larger than life manner, mixing fact with fable, such novels suggest an allegory of recent political history with the fabulous events corresponding to public realities. The magic world of the folk imagination blends with the Western and Westernized modernity brought about by colonialism, imperialism, capitalism, and science. The older and modern explanations are often in conflict. Whereas Midnight's Children concerns the modern colonial history of India through the independence struggle up to the national emergency declared by Mrs. Ghandi in 1975, Shame tells a story based on the political infighting among leading politicians in post-Partition Pakistan. In both novels modern political history is partly told as, and found to be similar to, the folk tales and myths of the past. A writer with a marvelous imagination whose plots always surprise, and with an instantly recognizable manner and diction modeled on traits of Indian and Pakistani spoken English, someone who often puns in several languages, Rushdie is also abrasive and combative. On the liberal Left, and for a time flirting with Marxism, Rushdie attacks, usually by satirizing, parodying, and making grotesque, what he considers reactionary and feudal forces in society.
Behind each novel there is usually a central topic being examined. In Shame it is how notions of personal and family honor in Pakistani politics are related to the feelings of shame that cause a Pakistani family in England to kill its daughter for what it regards as sexual dishonor. The obviousness of his allusions has often brought him into trouble, making him the most famous writer of our time. Mrs. Ghandi as Prime Minister of India sued Rushdie in court for the suggestion in Midnight's Children that to insure her power she had her son killed, which the novel implied was continuing older feudal Indian dynastic practices and was part of the real politics of post-colonial India. Shame was banned in Pakistan for insulting the state and individuals. Then in Satanic Verses, a novel about fanaticism and terrorism, Rushdie was felt by some radical fundamentalist Muslims to have insulted Islam and a fatwah was declared that he must be killed. The novel remains banned in many countries.
Rushdie, who had studied Islamic history, had followed scholarly sources in retelling older stories about Mohammed's life, but his novel became a pawn in the mobilization of Islamic sentiment against the West and liberalism. Rushdie himself had said nothing; the passages which caused offense were the fantasies and dreams of a psychotic character in his novel. But as a result several publishing houses were bombed, translators killed, and Rushdie for many years remained hidden from public sight. The novel concerned such common Rushdie themes as the condition of exile, living in more than one language and culture, deracination, and the foreigner's feelings of alienation and fear. It implies that values are relative and that what becomes accepted history is arbitrary and regarded differently at various times and places. Its strongest satire was aimed at England, especially Margaret Thatcher's government, but also a London Black Power hustler. It concludes with what appears to be Rushdie's own imagined reconciliation with his father in Bombay; a reconciliation necessarily imagined as his family moved from Bombay to Pakistan after Indian independence.
Throughout his work there is nostalgia for the Bombay of his youth, a Bombay which is now called Mumbai, in an India which has now become three nations, India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. Bombay, the most cosmopolitan city in India, a place where many tongues are spoken in mangled and marvelous mixtures, home of a thriving commercial film industry ("Bollywood"—which often figures in Rushdie's novels), is the home to which his imagination often returns. East, West includes "The Courier," memories of his teenage years in England and refusing to choose between two cultures. Most of the short stories in East, West concern just such choices and conclude with some affirmation of Indian or Muslim values, affirmations which, coming as a surprise, seem ironic, even comic, as if the two cultures could not be reconciled.
Rushdie's later fiction suggests someone trying to come to terms with exile and accepting that the world has always been a place of migrancy and cross-cultural influences. At the conclusion of The Moor's Last Sigh, Moraes Zogoiby flees an apocalyptic Bombay of gang wars, bombings, and communal violence for Spain. There he is imprisoned by an enemy who forces him to write his personal and family history. The reader then turns back to the start of the novel which continues the narrator's flight and story, as Moraes nails pages of his tale to trees in an act which he sees as equivalent to Luther's theses, while recalling his mother's remark that he is full of feces. Moraes is the Moor of the title, although he is Jew, Christian, and Indian. His mother's side of the family is descended from the Portuguese who settled Goa and his father's side can trace its lineage to the Christian reconquest of Spain when both Moors and Jews were expelled. They have been Indian for centuries.
The Moor's Last Sigh is another version of Midnight's Children which used an improbable, fantastic family history as a way to retell the story of modern India from, in the earlier novel, the penetration of Western rationalism and science in the north during the late nineteenth-century through major events of the independence movement until the progressive vision of Nehru was destroyed by the emergence of a nativistic dynastic feudalism during the Emergency under Indira Gandhi. In The Moor's Last Sigh Indian history is told from the perspective of the South, with its many minorities, rather than the Hindu-Islamic North, and Indira's dynastic perversion of nationalism is supplanted by fanatical nativist thugs who violently destroy whatever they regard as non-Hindu. The wandering Jew has become the wandering Moor, symbolic of India's threatened minorities and the rejection of the Westernized elite that founded the nation. The narrator has become a homeless expatriate. World, national, and family history in this novel have autobiographical and literary foundations. Like Scheherazade the narrator has staved off execution by telling, or inventing, his Thousand and One Nights.
In The Ground Beneath Her Feet the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice is retold as two Indian lovers who become international rock stars symbolic of recent Western and post-colonial culture. This is Rushdie's New World novel, half of it set in New York, with some major events in Mexico. It is his most accessible novel, understandable without knowing Indian history and culture, as it alludes to or imitates cultural fashions of recent decades. The protests against the war in Vietnam, apocalyptic sci-fi novels, and grung rock are all there and all treated as equal. Instead of Bombay politicians he alludes to John and Yoko, Sid and Nancy. Curiously Rushdie's first novel, the widely disliked Grimus, was also a mixed bag of cultural fashions and allusions including sci-fi, American Indians and American history and popular culture, mythology, and movies. There, unlike The Ground Beneath Her Feet, the story was difficult to follow.
The first half of The Ground Beneath Her Feet is set in Bombay and reworks material from Midnight's Children and The Moor's Last Sigh concerning the late colonial period and the corrupt violent politics that followed independence. The perspective is that of the Parsis, a small minority that flourished for a century by adopting British ways, becoming the modernizers of India, who since independence have become increasingly threatened and marginalized.
Rai, the narrator (Rai the fusion of North African Arabic music with rock that is popular in France and Algeria), says that these are his last memories of Bombay. The main characters leave for England and then move on to New York (where Rushdie has been living in recent years). The shifts correspond somewhat to periods of Rushdie's own life, with the Beatles and well-known Chelsea people featuring in the early sections of the second half of the book. Rai, a photographer, joins the migration of British literati to New York, which he proclaims the center of the modern world while claiming that the USA is the world's bully. Rai holds politically correct opinions. While he gives his rock-and-rollers abusive and abusing poor-white-trash early lives, Rushdie says several times that no matter what they suffer it is not as bad as what African-Americans suffer. The social texture of this half of the novel thins badly. In the past Rushdie was criticized as sexist, so here we have two strong macho women rock-and-roll stars who have sex whenever, wherever, and with whomever they want, while the two men in their lives abstain and, although themselves famous artists, are softies. There are also a great lesbian guitarist and a great female drummer. The first half of The Ground Beneath Her Feet reads well. The second half is often Rushdie at his worst, making bad puns, opinionated, losing his story, and reducing life to a cartoon.
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Rushdie, (Ahmed) Salman
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